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Something Like a Review: Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben Winters

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Lately, my genre of choice has been the literary mash-up. I am interested in and enchanted by the way contemporary writers take masterworks and reinvent them in a way that pays homage to the original work yet makes the piece relevant and interesting to today’s audience.

Not too long ago, I began my foray when I stumbled across Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. Being somewhat of a snob and an aficionado of the original, I was skeptical. Instead of buying it, I downloaded the sample on my Kindle. Much to my surprise, I loved it and when I finished the sample, I went out and bought the book. I stopped long enough to read the original work and then devoured the new story in just a couple of days. When I saw that this was but the first of what seemed to be a burgeoning trend, I was thrilled. I picked up Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters. Like the first, I read the original work and then picked up the mash-up. Suffice to say that it was disappointing, but it was that disappointment that opened a new opportunity for me. When I mentioned my experience with both books in my “What I’m Reading” page, I voiced my trepidation about reading Android Karenina by Ben H. Winters. One of the comments I received was from Eric from Quirk Books, the publisher of all three books. He offered to send me a copy of Android Karenina and expressed his confidence that I would enjoy it.

Mind you, I did take moment to check him out and do what I could to make sure he was legit, but my curiosity got the best of me and I said yes. A couple of weeks later, I received the book on my doorstep. Though I was tempted to dive right in, it had been so long since I read Anna Karenina that I only remembered the big events. To do a fair side by side comparison, I had to take the time to read Tolstoy’s original.

For those of you who have a distance of years between today and the last time you read it, Anna Karenina is an imposing volume rich with complex relationships, politics, and intricate social and class issues. I was less than confident that Winters could pull it off and I was concerned about writing a less than positive review, but I knew that no matter what I wrote, it would be honest. I resolved to worry about the review once I was done.

When I read a literary mash-up, I’m looking for the author to maintain the voice of the original author while breathing new life into it. As I continue, I’m looking for the author to maintain the integrity of the characters’s spirits in the face of the changes the author makes to the story and ensuring that the reactions of any character are appropriate. I’m looking for “plausible” changes to the circumstances in the context of the new world. In a perfect world, I’d even say that I’m looking for some kind of continuation of theme in the context of the new story.

I am quite pleased to say that Eric was right – I really enjoyed Android Karenina. Winters redeemed himself in my eyes with the treatment of this story and not only met, but exceeded my expectations at times.

I’ll try not to give too much away, but Winters takes Tolstoy’s Russia and introduces a miracle metal called groznium which leads to incredible leaps in the available technology. The familiar social structure is fundamentally the same, but the question of the peasantry isn’t nearly as prominent to characters like Levin and Stiva. Instead of dealing with the Russian peasantry, three classes of robots are introduced into the lower social strata to fill those roles. The major classes range from lowly Class I’s (samovars, ashtrays, dice) to Class II’s which fill servant roles (porters, secretaries) to the Class III’s, also known as beloved-companions. These Class III’s become the intimates of their owners, and are often closer than family members to their owners. They are akin to butlers or ladies-in-waiting, but are also confidants. In the original text, there really isn’t a single-character parallel for the Class III’s. The political focus shifts from the oppressed masses to the targeting of the beloved Class III’s by the Ministry and the changes that loom over their mechanical heads.

Winters made some changes to the story that I really enjoyed. He managed to lose the density of the text while still maintaining an enjoyable complexity and instilling a sense of humor throughout that occasionally poked fun at the parody. To achieve a lightness not present in the original, Winters minimized previously prominent characters like Stepan Oblonsky (Stiva), and Princess Shcherbatsky (Kitty’s mother). While this can (and does) cause minor disruptions to the story, they are not unforgivable transgressions and disentangles some of the Gordian plot knot to allow for the modifications in the story. Much of the overtly political and social discussion around the peasantry and upper classes is removed from this version of the story, and in its void, Winters allows a sense of paranoia and mystery to creep in, creating interwoven layers of intrigue. He does a great job of playing up the arrival of the Honored Guests during a moment that someone familiar with the original will expect tension and a dramatic climax. To be honest, when I read it, I “knew” what was going to happen, yet when I realized that it wasn’t the outcome I expected, I said, “Wait…what?” and reread the passage. It caught me pleasantly off guard and I hope that it will other readers as well.

One of the great complaints I had about the original was Levin’s soliloquies at the end. I hated them and felt like I was wading through cold oatmeal trying to get to the end of the book when I first encountered them. I could really just kiss Ben Winters for keeping his meaderings blissfully short, and making them feel more relevant to the story instead of pertaining more to the resolution of Levin’s character development.

Not all of the changes were so happily received, however. Though much of the exposition about the social construct is removed, I was irked to see that some of the rigidity leeched out with it. While this may seem to only impact the way the characters interact with each other, it ends up changing how the characters develop. In the original text, Kitty has to wait to be introduced to the aloof Madame Stahl while her family is out of the country at the spa so she can make the acquaintance of Varenka. In this new social construct, Kitty introduces herself. This simple act changes her from the young girl tied to the social conventions of her time which have imposed her refusal to Levin in favor of Vronsky, and changes the reader’s view of her obedience to the behaviors her parents instilled in her from a young age when she meets Levin again later, and thus, changes the readers perception of her character. Giving her even such freedoms makes readers question her adherence to “socially acceptable behavior” in a way they do not in the original because of the social expectations inherent in the narrative.

The most irksome changes I encountered were critical change to the characters. While Vronsky was a member of the military force in the original, his engagement in his profession is much more understated than in this version. In Android Karenina, he is more enthusiastically and actively involved in the military and early on, it made me wonder how his character’s demeanor would change later in the story.

Even Anna, subject to the social consequences of her choices thus far, changes. In the original novel, it is with an outward silence and strength that she stands up under the scrutiny of others, as she does in the opera house. In the re-imagining, not only does Anna show the characteristic strength, she displays viable empowerment, eroding the reader’s perception of her as outwardly strong yet inwardly fragile. She also takes a much more active role in Vozdvizhenskoe’s development, maintenance and defense, altering her behavior from the original. It makes the juxtaposition of her strength against her paranoia regarding her place with Vronsky seem out of place. In the original, I felt quite connected to Anna’s mental state and her fate seemed not only realistic, but felt like a relief. In this story, I could still feel the tempest swirling within her, but it felt more contrived than the original, and as though the artfulness of it was lost because of the changes to her character.

In the original, Vronsky seeks the comfort of Stiva, his friend, who advocates not yielding to Anna’s feminine demands and encourages Vronsky to assert his “masculine independence.” With Stiva’s role vastly diminished in this story, those conversations don’t happen, yet when Vronsky reacts to Anna’s paranoia, the phrase recurs and feels out of context with the story and his character in general. In this story, he doesn’t feel like a man trapped by his love, but rather a man who is humoring the woman he loves and trying to assuage her fits of childish angst.

The rankling change that I both loved and hated in equal measure was the change in Alexei Karenin. In the original, Karenin was a man in the midst of a political power struggle who exerted his power over the life of his wife and her lover by denying her power to achieve happiness by denying her divorce, denying her access to her son, and some would argue, allowing the social world to shut her out by forbidding her access to the one thing that would have reopened the doors – a marriage to Vronsky. In the original, after Anna left her husband, he acquired a social and religious conscience in the form of Countess Lydia Ivanovna. She was manipulative in a deceptively benevolent way, urging him to act as a Christian, and to uphold the morals of the Church. Her recommendations were subversively hostile to Anna, but were always’ made from a place of “love” where Karenin was concerned. He is not directly confrontational and that is one of the things that frustrates Anna, causing her to exclaim that he’s not human. In the new version, Karenin’s humanity seeps away under the counsel of his Class III and is replaced by a malevolence that brings him to physically intimidate both Anna and Vronsky and urges him to destroy the infant Annie as he stands over her crib. In the original text, Karenin is stuck in the middle of a political power struggle wherein he has no real position and leverage; in the new version, he faces a similar obstacle, but overcomes it with alacrity. Karenin comes into political power and is installed as the figurehead behind a dark project that unnerves many characters and inspires a feeling of guilt in Anna over her role in bringing the project to fruition. Anna from the original text is unapologetic for seeking her own happiness and for her actions; Anna from Android Karenina is under the impression that her actions doom not only herself, but also her fellow Russians in the context of Karenin’s project. While I enjoyed having a real villian to intensify the changes in the story, I rather liked the milksop Karenin and the way he seemed to drift through the story, unaltered and unalterable by the strength of his will. I like the change as much as I dislike it.

As I was nearing the end, I thought I encountered a big, cheap, eye-rolling plot device and with a heavy sigh, I pushed through it thinking something along the lines of “he did so well for so long, and now, he’s going to ruin it with this crap?” I will happily eat those words. While a stereo-typical plot device did manifest very near the end, it was cleverly used and in conjunction with a dual-epilogue, effectively brought the story to a satisfying close. Both of the epilogues wrapped back into the story’s Moebius strip and resolved the troubling changes to Vronsky’s and Anna’s characters.

While this won’t stand up to heavy literary scrutiny and there are disparities when engaging in a side by side comparison of the original, Android Karenina is a great piece and a fun twist on Anna Karenina. It brings in all of the intrigues of the originals, cuts the difficult-to-get-through politics and has unexpected twists to delight the reader. For those who will focus on comparing the two volumes, or the literary purists (aka “book snobs”), I don’t recommend doing a side by side reading. I do, however, recommend enjoying this light-hearted look at a classic tale through sci-fi lenses. In my opinion, Ben H. Winters did it right this time and has redeemed himself with this tale.

Rejected!

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Just as I expected. ~rubbing hands together with an evil laugh~ They’re playing right into my hands.

Or something like that.

So, I sent out my novella and, as expected, they rejected it. Not a surprise, but what was surprising was how I wasn’t devastated by it. I was disappointed, sure, but I figured it would feel like a sucker punch. Not so much, so that’s a good thing. Now comes the hard part – finding another place to send it. It’s a “‘tween” size work. ‘Tween a short story and a novel.

Back to work now…and since I forgot all my digital writing implements, I see this as a fortuitous command from the universe to “EDIT, DAMNIT!” So, I’m going to be a good girl and obey.

Contributions of Reading

January 14, 2011 Leave a comment

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”

-Buddhist proverb

This is something I believe and have seen happen in my life too many times to discount. The teacher appears in many guises – a person, an experience, something on the internet, in a book, in the overheard tidbit of a conversation. It’s the moment when we’re receptive to the lesson that matters.

I have a habit of keeping draft versions of posts on things I want to talk about later so a.) I don’t forget, and b.) when I can’t figure out what to write about, I have no excuse. About a month ago, I dropped this one into the stack of drafts and said “I’ll work on that one ‘later.'” I had big ideas and lofty things I wanted to say and I planned on relating it back to the Big Ones and their masterpieces and the aspirations I have compared to how I was using them. (By the way, if you’re laughing, you’re in good company. I was giggling at myself when I thought back to my plans and read over my notes highlighting the key points I wanted to make. The only thing I kept was the title.)

So life intrudes, and I don’t think much about my stack of drafts; I just proceed with doing what I do. Then, the other day, I was standing in line at the grocery store planning out my next blog piece and looking for a little inspiration, I decided to run through my RSS feed. Lo and behold, I came across this gem and I smiled. For me, I received a two part lesson.

  • First: Simplicity is best. Say it without dressing it up.
  • Second: You can’t be a snob who eschews what you label “crap” if you want to be among those you admire.

The line from that post that has stuck with me over the past couple of days is demonstrative of the first lesson. I couldn’t say it better than this and I won’t try….

One of these phrases for the developing writer is You are what you eat. By this I’m not talking about a literal diet, of course, but a literary one. The choices a writer makes in terms of the types of writing he or she consumes has a drastic impact on the type of writer he or she will become.

source

Simply put, to be the best, you have to take in the best, but also, you have to take in enough of the worst to be able to identify the traps you could fall into and then prevent it. To be marketable, you have to know what sells, and to learn new things, you have to branch out into new territory.

I don’t have anything lofty to add, simplicity suffices here. I’m going back to my reading. This is one diet I can take in everything I can stand and the result is much needed craft skills and personal development.

Reworking the Classics

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I have been much enamored of the “new” trend in books where the classics are “reworked.” This probably isn’t new, but it’s become popular through titles like Jane Slayer, Little Vampire Women, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Android Karenina. I have no problem with these titles as they are (generally) an homage to the original work. I enjoy reading the original and then reading the re-imagined piece and enjoying where the author paralleled the original work, and where they deviated. I enjoy the dichotomy of the two works and it’s just fun to see what twisted imaginations people have.

What bothers me are actions like this that aren’t done as an homage or a light-hearted nod towards the book. This February, NewSouth Books is planning on releasing Huckleberry Finn in an edition with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but with one notable exception: the “n” word. All 200+ references to the term will be removed, effectively sanitizing the book to make it less uncomfortable to read. NewSouth Books defends their decision to promote the book by stating that the omission of such a hurtful word will “help the works find new readers.”

Fine. Reach new readers now, and in fifteen, twenty, or forty years down the road, when the curriculum fails to remind students that the words being used are replacements for the original words selected and used by Mark Twain? Then what? Once the precedent is set, what happens when words are being changed in other classic texts, or entire scenes being rewritten for the comfort of the reader? What if Humboldt never actually seduces his nymphette? What if Holden never spoke of anything remotely sexual or vulgar? What if a brilliant mind like Salman Rushdie never published the Satanic Verses because of his fear of living under fatwa? Or because of such pressures, rewrote it? What then? What excuses are we willing to make to put a reader at ease, to remove the challenge that reading provokes, killing conversation, education, discussion and (hopefully, some level of) enlightenment about a world other than their own? We’re already circling the drain when it comes to culture, why not flush again with more instances like this to see if we can actually make it all the way down this time!

While I understand the reason behind the desire to pull such an incendiary word from the text to spare readers of different ethnicity and heritage from feeling the sting of such a loaded word, doing so is a reprehensible change to a classic text and smacks of censorship. To remove a word from the text that makes it uncomfortable to read opens the door to similar and more dramatic acts of revisionism. Yes, it’s an ugly word, and yes, it has hundreds of years of negative history attached to each syllable, however, that’s not an excuse to remove it. The educated among us should be championing the discomfort in a an effort to open a discussion that lacks rancor. It’s an invitation to understand a world that NONE of us could possibly have been a part of and can only understand through the words those that have come before us left in their wake. The ugly, offensive slur portrays the depths of the disparity between the classes and races in the context of the story and in the way the story was received then and received now. What is the value of literature if we seek to sanitize the experience and take out the parts that make us squeamish? What is the point of all the time and energy a writer spends telling the truth as they see it in the context of their experience and shares it with the world? What will we ever learn and how will we progress if we allow ourselves to set this precedent and example for future generations?

There isn’t much I can do with this except stomp my feet and yell where I think my voice will add to the noise, even if it is ignored. If it ever comes down to it and I have kids of my own, they will read the unsanitized version and I will do my best to teach them about the book, the time the story came from, why the story had such an impact, and why it’s still sparking controversy. I will teach them about censorship in the most unbiased way possible and hope they are able to understand why it’s wrong without influencing their decision.

Rebellion

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I just finished killing about a half a tree. Sitting before me is a stack of pages, roughly an 1-1/2″ thick of stories that need to be edited. The inner me is pitching a righteous hissy fit because I don’t want to do it. I have something like eight-five thousand other things I want to accomplish on my snow/ice/treacherous-southern-weather day, and not a damn one of them is sitting here with a pen in hand figuring out how to turn the fiction in front of me into something worth submitting. I’m rebelling against what I know I ~need~ to do.

Rebellion or not, this is something I have to. Rules 2 and 4.

I’ve tried the if-then reward process. I’ve been doing it for the past two days and I’m actually running out of things to bribe myself with in the confines of my house. Ice isn’t going to let me get too far out into the real world today. Simply put,  I need to do one of these stories and get it out on the market. Having just two out there in the shark tank is unacceptable when I have a handful that only lack revision to be out there as well. What I’ll do as a reward escapes me at the moment, but I suppose I’ll think of something. For now, signing off to go confine myself to my editing space and see what happens from there.

Digital Reading

January 10, 2011 3 comments

I am a tech girl. I love my gadgets and gizmos. I like shiny new things that I have to figure out (to some degree). My SO hands me new tech and says “When you figure it out, teach me how to use it.” Digging into a new techtoy and figuring out what it can really do is like play time for me.

It only stands to reason that because of this fascination, e-readers and other digital reading gizmos would be right up my alley. They are, of course, although before I go any further let me say that no matter how many features it has to mimic or “improve” the book experience, no e-reader will EVER replace a book. Having a book in hand is a unique experience. There’s the sensation of opening pages no one has read yet and stepping into a world no one has entered yet. Even the arthritic crinkle of pages that have been handled by generations of hands has an allure, beckoning you to join the elite explorers who came before you and follow in their footsteps. There’s the smell of the paper (old or new), the weight of the book, the cover (battle-scarred or clean and new), the way pages riffle under your thumb and make that flippy-slapping sound as they fall back into place, the visual sense of progress as the right hand side of the book shrinks and the left swells in direct proportion.

I know that seems a little dramatic but ask any real book lover and you’re likely to find those are things that make the experience of reading a book unique and irreplaceable. Neither the story nor the reader’s experience in the story change when you lift the words off a paper page and put them on some kind of screen or monitor, but what changes is the visceral, tactile experience and that’s something no book lover will ever relinquish. No matter how many bells, whistles and other doo-dads e-readers offer to make it more accessible to a technologically obsessed world, no e-reader will ever replace an actual book.

My tech expansion into digital reading began with the Kindle almost two years ago. I liked the ability to carry a couple hundred books with me at any given time without investing in rolling luggage or a small army of day laborers to carry them for me. The Kindle enables my multi-book reading habit without breaking my bag, my shoulder, or my back. It keeps my place in each book I’m reading and lets me easily bounce between them as my mood, taste and inclination dictate. One of the most exciting points about the Kindle was the screen. I loved that I could read it for hours and not have my eyes burn and go all twitchy from back lighting. The screen is relatively glare-free and feels no different than reading a regular book. One of my favorite things about the Kindle is the ability to sample almost anything to decide whether I want to invest in the book – either in a dead-tree or digital copy. I take my Kindle almost everywhere with me in my purse, so when I go to the bookstore and find a book that seems interesting but not compelling enough to buy right then and there, I download a sample of the book. Doing this, I don’t have to worry about forgetting to check it out later, and if I absolutely hate it, I haven’t wasted money that could be better put to use. The Kindle has also made me change the way I buy books. Once I’ve sampled a book, I can decide whether I want to invest the money and shelf space to a physical book, or if I’d be happy with a digital copy. Chances are, if I know I’m going to read it again, I’ll buy the hard copy. If it’s something that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, or if it’s intriguing, interesting, but likely to be a one-time only read, I’ll pick up the digital copy. The guilty pleasure concealment is a real bonus….no one has to know when you’re reading something truly horrid and you don’t have to keep it hidden away in your house, either.

Suffice to say I was thrilled with my wonderful gadget and recommended it to anyone who mentioned it, showed any interest or curiosity in it, or would just start talking about something marginally related.

A little more than a year later and my tech habit started picking at me again, but this time, over the iPad. I messed around with it in stores for months, but couldn’t manage to commit $700 to what would be, I assumed, a costly toy. The deciding feature in the purchase of the iPad was the on-screen keyboard. I figured it would be a pain in the arse to try and actually do anything useful on it because I have fat, flighty little fingers and struggle with digital keyboards. I couldn’t imagine trying to type anything lengthy on it without wanting to throw my costly plaything across the room. Again, in the store, I started playing with it, and finally decided that I would make the leap and (after a 2 year extended warranty that would cover my klutzy self), I laid down a heart-stopping pile of money to take it home with me. Now what, you ask, does this have to do with the whole digital reading thing? Patience, my dear reader, and my circumlocutions will return back to the original point.

Roughly around the time I bought the iPad, the Nook Color was promoted HARD by Barnes and Nobles. I had a few people asking me about the Kindle during their comparison shopping and asked me to compare the Nook to the Kindle. I could talk about the Kindle all day long, but I had no idea about any of the other e-readers. I had no intention of running out and buying a Nook, but I decided to download the Nook iPad app and compare.

Once the download completed, a brainstorm struck. What better way to take all the e-reader apps for a spin and see how they stack up against each other? The iPad comes with iBooks installed. For those familiar with the Temple of Steve Jobs, colloquially known as Apple, iBooks is the Apple e-reader available on products like the iPad, iPod touch, and a variety of others, I’m sure. To round out my heavy-hitter collection, I downloaded the Kindle app, the Borders e-book app, and Google Books.

The basic concept behind all of these apps is pretty standard. Each of them allow a customer to download digital copies of books, making entire libraries ultra portable. Most of them have a pretty wide variety of free classic selections thanks to Project Gutenberg, and some even have free books from more current authors to promote new works. Some of the features that are available across the board are the ability to sort titles by list or by cover, the ability to sample books before purchase, some kind of status bar to show you where you are in the book, and the ability to change the size of the text (all except the Kindle app and the Kindle device allow you to change the font style as well). They all have their shining moments, and here’s how they stack up:

iBooks
Things I loved:

  • the nifty page-turning experience (as seen on the somewhat cheesy commercials)
  • the visual bookmark that’s clear and easy to see
  • the menu bars disappear while reading, yet are recalled easily
  • Embedded dictionary, Wikipedia and Google searches from the text of the story.
  • I’m kind of a dork…well, that may be a bit of an understatement, but my point is I prefer to stop reading at the end of a chapter whenever possible. It leaves a “clean” break in the story. With iBooks, the status bar not only shows your progress in the work, but gives you “pages left in chapter” tracking. This helps me make the decision of when to come up for air, and give me an idea of whether or not I have time to make it to the end of a chapter, or if I should just stop where I am.
  • There are pretty intensive reading experience controls: not only is there a contrast control to modify the brightness of the screen, there’s also a “sepia” color set that changes the background to a more mellow color, making it easier to read longer.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Only available through iTunes. While this makes sense, and would probably be less irritating if I had an iPad with 3G, it’s annoying because I can’t browse the web to see what’s available when I either don’t have my device or don’t have a Wi-Fi connection for it. Example: at work on my break. If I want to see what’s new on the fiction scene, I can log in to any number of book selling sites through my work computer. With some, I can send a new book to my iPad without ever turning it on. With this, I can’t even see to compare pricing.
  • In order to back up your purchases, you have to sync your device regularly. If you don’t and that mysterious “something” happens to your iPad, iPhone, etc, the purchases you made directly to your mobile device go ~poof~. Word to the wise: sync often, just in case.

Mixed Blessings:

  • Multi-platform, but only brand-specific platforms (iPod touch, iPhone, iPad, etc)

Borders e-Reader
Things I loved:

  • While reviewing the list view, the app shows the percentage of the book read.
  • “I’m Reading” view shows all books in progress
  • Making a selection in the Table of Contents will jump to the next feature in the book, even on free content.
  • Options for page turning experience which give a more book-like experience, or a simple change of page one would find on a computer.
  • Not only was the bookmark highly visible, it had a few fun options to change the style as well
  • Multi-platform for Apple products, Android-powered smartphones, Blackberry and computer-based reading.
  • e-Books are available in either pub or pdf format. This allows the reader more flexibility when reading on multiple devices.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Shopping from the app is a royal pain in the ass. Every time I downloaded something, I would have to navigate my way back to the list and instead of dropping me right back where I had been, I had to start back at the beginning. While this wouldn’t have been a big deal if it were a short list of books, trying to remember where I was in 25 pages of a list got old pretty quickly.
  • Lack of direct access to dictionary, Google and Wikipedia from the text. May not impact most casual readers, but the lack of this feature is marked in someone who pursues more challenging pieces.

Mixed Blessings:

  • This app does have the ability to change from black text on white background to an option they call “night reading.” The only other format available, however, is white text on black background, which is only marginally better.

Google Books
Things I loved:

  • This is another e-reader with my beloved “pages left in chapter” status bar. See above for the rationale behind the love I give to this gadget.
  • Active Table of Contents that jumps to the first page of the chapter. While this is available in many of the paid content for other applications, this works even on the freebies in Google Books!
  • Google Books allows the reader to customize their reading experience by having the nifty page-turning experience reminiscent of iBooks, or shutting it off completely and just changing the pages quickly and without frills.
  • Each reader’s library is available via digital cloud which means that a reader can access it from any enabled device at any time. This also means that if you have to change your device, your content isn’t lost.
  • Auto-sync across devices. This allows you to start reading on the iPad, then pick it up on your computer at work exactly where you left off without having to look for what you last read.

Things I didn’t like:

  • One of the awesome things about the iPad is the ability to turn the device and use either a portrait or landscape orientation. For all the other e-readers, this means you can read a book with one page at a time, or showing two, as if you were holding a real book. Google Books app only allows for a portrait (vertical) orientation. This is a big dissatisfaction in my point of view.
  • No visual bookmark. I guess this stems from my physical reading habit. Even though Google Books will auto-sync, I would still like to see a bookmark to confirm that yes, this is where I left off.
  • Inability to highlight or annotate the text. While this may not be a big deal to the casual reader, for someone in school or who is making notes for personal development in writing, I’ve found this lack HIGHLY frustrating.
  • Lack of direct access to Google, Wikipedia and an embedded dictionary from the text. Again, for the casual reader, this may not be much of a detraction from the reading experience, but for someone who picks up more challenging works, this is inconvenient and annoying.

Mixed Blessings:

  • Multi-platform is great for the iPad, computer, availability on some e-readers (Sony and Kobo) and Android phones. The crappy thing is that the app isn’t more widely available to other phones, like Blackberry. I may eventually get a Droid phone, but I love my Torch too much to give it up yet.
  • The disappearing menu for options and miscellaneous controls is great – until you try to recall it. There were more than a few times when I was playing with it and trying to recall the menu and ended up turning two or three pages before I got the blasted thing to reappear. I realize this could just be me having a moment, but if it happened to me and made me scowl, I won’t be the only one facing the same thing.

Nook
Things I loved:

  • The ability to rate books on my library home page. This was so cool. I didn’t have to log into an account online to do it or qualify it with comments; this was just for me to remember what I thought of the book.
  • Cloud-based library. Yay recoverability and mobility!
  • Excellent reader control of the page. Not only is there contrast control, there are multiple reading themes (including a create your own option) to allow the reader to change the color of the background, text color, justification and spacing.
  • Free In-Store reading! Having a Nook or Nook app allows the reader to connect to the Barnes and Nobles in-store Wi-Fi and read a book for free for up to one hour per day. “Rent” a spot in the cafe with the purchase of a cuppa and over the course of a week or so, you’ve not only taken some much needed time for yourself, you’ve also read that bestseller that you couldn’t get your hands on at the library.
  • Embedded dictionary, Wikipedia and Google searches from the text of the story.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The bookmark within the work is at the bottom of the page and so tiny it’s very easy to overlook.
  • When setting up my Nook account, I was required to enter my credit card number, even though I wasn’t making a purchase. THAT is incredibly annoying. I felt forced to enable my ability to make a purchase just to get in and play with the app and see what’s out there for free. Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. I realize that there is a business reason for this, but as a consumer who is far too easily tempted to buy books in massive quantities, I resent it.

Mixed Blessings:

  • With the other apps I reviewed, the reader had the option of reviewing their library by cover or by list. In the Nook app, the choices to review the library are either by cover, or a page-at-a-time synopsis of the books in your library. Right now, my collection is fairly small so it was kind of neat to review them this way, but with a larger library I can only imagine this would be cumbersome at best.
  • LendMe technology. This is by far the coolest thing about the Nook – until I realized that it’s not available for all books. LendMe allows a Nook user to loan an ebook to another Nook user for two weeks, and then automatically recalls the book to the owner’s library after that time is up. If it were for all Nook books, this would be one of the biggest selling points for the Nook.
  • Multi-platform, but again, a narrow selection. The Nook app is only available for iPad, iPhone and Android phones. Yes, I know that Droid is becoming the next big thing, but damnit, I love my Blackberry and I know I’m not the only one.

Undecided:

  • Self-publishing. I’m so torn on this one, I can’t really call it a love, a hate or a combination of the two. The Nook allows self-publishing and sale of an e-book. As a writer, I find this equally attractive and repelling. Not only is it the freedom to publish what you love and what makes you happy while you earn money doing it, it also opens the door to people to flood the market with crap. So yeah. I’m scratching my head over this one and trying to figure out whether this is a step forward in the world, or if it’s an excuse for the marketing world to take advantage of people.

Kindle (app)
Things I loved:

  • Widely available multi-platform support! Kindle app is available for Apple devices, my beloved Blackberry, Android phones and computer.
  • I don’t have to be on my device (phone or iPad) to make a purchase. I can be online using my Amazon.com account and buy a book, specifying which device I want to receive it. Once I turn on that device and connect it to the network, the item downloads. Enough said.
  • Cloud-based library allows me to read a book on my Kindle, then download and sync it to my phone if I happen to forget my Kindle at home. I can also remove the book from any device at any time, and when I want it back, I can download it again. Anything I’ve purchased is archived so I can do this at any time. Awesomesauce.
  • The Kindle app takes advantage of the portrait or landscape capabilities of the iPad allowing a 1 or 2 page view.
  • Reading controls include contrast control and background/text color change abilities, which are awesome for night reading.
  • The selection of free books is by far superior than I’ve seen of any of the providers yet.
  • Embedded dictionary, Wikipedia and Google searches from the text of the story. All a reader has to do to enable any of these is move through the text to get a definition, or to use any of the automated research tools.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Just the idea of sharing books on Nook has spoiled me and I miss the ability to share books with my Kindle-using buddies.
  • On the Blackberry app, there is no option to allow text and background color changes on the screen. No matter how dark it is, you’ve got one option: black text on white background. Bring your sunglasses for the dark.
  • The Blackberry app does not allow highlighting or annotating the text. Being mobile doesn’t preclude the need to make notes, and I miss this feature.

Mixed Blessings:

  • Bookmarks are available on both the iPad app and the Blackberry app. It’s great on the iPad, but small on the Blackberry. While I realize this is just a constraint of the format, even giving a more dramatic color change to the bookmark on the Blackberry would make it more visible.
  • The Kindle app shows you what other people have highlighted or made notes on within the text. While this is great for students and may help people catch key passages, it can get distracting for someone who’s reading something for fun.

Kindle (device – 2nd gen)
Things I love:

  • The glare-resistant screen and the lack of backlighting are a wonderful thing. I thought it was just one of those “innovations” Amazon wanted to use to set their device apart in the market, but it really makes a difference in the reading experience. I can read the Kindle as long as a book without feeling the eyestrain I can on other devices, like my phone or iPad.
  • Whispersync technology. Love it. 3G is awesome and I can download just about anywhere, any time. No wi-fi necessary and no additional charge.
  • Cloud-based library. I can move things on and off my device quickly and easily and not worry about “losing” a purchase. Plus, I can buy from my computer, and choose which device to send it to. Yay lunch-break surfing!
  • Highlighting and annotating the text works for me. I like being able to make notes when necessary.
  • Embedded dictionary is a big win. I’d like to embed wikipedia or google, but that may be gilding the lily on such a simple device.
  • Lack of distractions. As much as I love my iPad, it’s one distracting gizmo. There are so many temptations poking at my attention, but the Kindle keeps the temptations to a minimum.
  • Easier to pull out and get to reading than the iPad. I keep this in my purse, and while I keep my iPad in my purse, I am more likely to pull out the Kindle when waiting in line than I am the iPad. There’s a more direct connection to what I’m reading with something that is smaller and feels more like a book, and, again – less distraction.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The screen will sometimes “burn” either the text or the screensaver image when the device times out. The image will ghost for a few days before the screen returns to normal.
  • Every once in a while, when I fall asleep reading (and the CLUNK of the Kindle on my face doesn’t happen or doesn’t wake me up), the device will time out and then crash. I can’t wake it from its “sleep” state, and have to mess with the power switch to get it to restore. This usually means I lose my place in the text. Thankfully, I’ve only had this happen a handful of times since I received it, but it can be irritating.

At the end of the day, if I only had one choice, I would go for the Kindle device, seconded by the Kindle app. While Nook, iBooks and Google Books all have the multi-platform support, Kindle is just better at it. For anyone faced with the decision between buying an e-reader or the iPad, though, I’d say go with the iPad and use the Kindle app. In the end, it’s a much more versatile purchase, and the “sepia” background for the Kindle app is about as easy on the eyes as a back-lit device is going to get.

Happy reading!

The Fragile Magic of Writing

January 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Writing is fragile magic. It is a moment in time where you sit down, tap into the divine within you and create an entire world out of something as simple as words. Putting your fingers to the keyboard, pen to paper is a moment of alchemy where you transform everything you have ever experienced, read, heard about or dreamed and breathe life into it. You are the creator. You give it form.

It takes the best of ourselves to write, but you can’t do it without your dark side, either. The worst of whatever lies within. It takes honesty to create credible lies that people want to read. As spider webs are tough enough to snare a fly, remember that they are not strong enough to stand up to the intrusion of a human passing through. Such is time spent writing. It’s a sacred act, this transubstantiation. Protect it. Keep it sacred. Close the door and create.

Categories: Life in General, Writing Tags:
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